Heritage Festival Guest Post #2 – The Future of Heritage in Fremantle

In this second guest post City of Fremantle Heritage Coordinator Alan Kelsall lays out come challenges to our understanding (often misconceptions) around heritage in Freo


What is heritage?

Fremantle has been shaped by successive generations of diverse communities. The term ‘heritage’ is an attempt to describe what this inheritance is. It cannot be simply defined, for it is describes the layer upon layer of accumulated knowledge, beliefs, aspirations, skills, traditions and investment of many people over many years

It is however what gives Fremantle its distinctive character as well as adding meaning and quality to the places in which we live.  It provides a sense of continuity and is a source of our identity and provides the context for its continuing evolution.

Our built heritage represents the very best of our past. It is a resource for learning and enjoyment. Importantly it is also a social and economic asset that has an important role to play as a catalyst for the regeneration and sustainable development of our city.


Fremantle is fortunate

Fremantle was established as the port town for Perth and for most of its history it was a prosperous urban centre, acknowledged as the second city of the metropolitan area.  It is these facts that underscore the city’s distinct character. It is impossible to fully understand the historic character of Fremantle’s inherited urban centre without it being an energetic and highly animated, expression of its success as a port city.

To a great extent the character of the West End is embodied in it being a largely intact precinct of Victorian and Federation era buildings.  The evidence of the West End’s cultural heritage significance therefore is also evidence of period of prosperity.  As result the precinct contains many intact, high quality buildings that inherently possess attributes that could contribute to the West End becoming a prosperous part of a successful urban centre.

For this area, conservation should include re-establishing the values that made it successful in the first place – allowing it to grow but to remain true to its character.


Should we stop using the word heritage negatively?

Successful urban centres usually contain buildings of different ages.  They also tend to have in common characteristics that have evolved from the distilled wisdom of centuries of trial and error improvements and there is, therefore, a seemingly uncontrived rightness at the core of many aspects of successful urban design.  It is this sense of rightness that tends to bring a long term perspective to decisions regarding ‘modernisation’ and how the new and old can work together to the mutual benefit of both to create a distinctive and high-quality urban centre.

Fremantle is fortunate because what it has inherited from the past means that it fulfills many people’s expectation of what a successful urban centre should be.  In a metropolitan area of increasing globalisation and homogeneity, Fremantle’s ability to offer something that is becoming increasingly rare should be promoted as providing an advantage over competing urban centres.  This is in no small way due to the quality and rarity of the city’s historic heritage buildings.


The Valuable inheritance

When they were built developers made an investment in what we now consider to be heritage buildings.  These investments were not purely utilitarian or simplistically profit based.  There was instead a tangible desire to erect buildings of a quality which displays an identifiable mix of business confidence and civic pride.  It is because of these qualities that, over a hundred years after their construction, these buildings are considered worth conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations.  The original owners of these buildings seem to have known instinctively that people will be attracted to places of quality.


Lost sight of the vision?

Is the problem that the current generation of owners/developers have lost sight of the vision of earlier generations and no longer appreciate the economic and social benefits of what they have inherited from the past?  Is this why property owners prefer to dwell on the ‘negatives’?  If so, let’s reconnect them with that initial reason for investment in quality buildings.


Reduce the misperceptions

In recent years the City of Fremantle has focused on doing what it can do to reduce the complexities and misperceptions surrounding heritage, without jeopardising the historical integrity of our heritage buildings that form such a key part of our competitive advantage as an experiential destination.  The City is continually aiming to make the message more understandable and relevant.  The starting point for achieving this is consistent and timely two-way communication between the City, property owners and developers.


Requires many larger and smaller collective actions

The City recognises that its vision of a revitalised truly diverse and intense city centre relies on the multiplier effect of many larger and smaller collective actions.  To be successful the urban revitalisation of Fremantle requires broad based and long term support, and a commitment to making it happen, from not only the State Government and the City but also from commercial and retail businesses and institutions, and from the general public – the people who know and understand the area intimately.


There is more than one type of retail

People will continue to visit and utilise contemporary out-of-town shopping centres for the foreseeable future.  The success of these centres is car dependent with an overwhelming requirement for car parking.  This dependence on the car means that out-of-town shopping centres should not be seen as the only long term form of retail, particularly for urban centres.

It should also be recognised that typically the purpose of supermarkets is to provide a convenient means of doing bulk shopping. A trip to a large supermarket is usually about getting in and out as quickly as possible.  The routine of shopping in large supermarkets means that they rarely encourage people to spend time and visit other places within their vicinity.

In many ways the idea of inserting a large supermarket in an urban centre is an example of the type of limited-focus planning decisions which history teaches us, not only failed to create the sort of places intended or achieve the predicted economic outcomes, they also caused the loss of what this generation and those of the future would value.

It should be understood that there are alternative retail models particularly for urban centres and that these are more likely to better serve the revitalisation of central Fremantle.

Successful urban centres inevitably contain lively retail areas with a real character and quality that encourages people want to linger and spend time.  The success of an area is not necessarily measured by the number of people passing through it, but instead by the number of people spending time there.

The long-term sustainable answer to the revitalisation of Fremantle is likely to involve embracing / relearning what it means to be urban.


The aim is to establish a successful, multi-layered urban centre

The aim is to establish the right conditions for the development of a successful, multi-layered urban centre of sufficient density to support the vibrant diversity of uses and users needed for the effective functioning of business, residential, social and cultural activities with less reliance on the car.  Importantly the buildings and public spaces should be of a quality and resilience that will ensure that the city centre will be valued by both present and future generations.

Fremantle is fortunate in that, to a degree, its centre already achieves many of these objectives.  In a metropolitan area (and a world for that matter) of increasing globalisation and homogeneity, Fremantle’s ability to offer something different is being promoted as providing it with an advantage over competing urban centres.  This is due in no small way to the quality and rarity of the city’s historic urban form and public spaces, as well as to its heritage buildings.

Consequently, the aim is to not only conserve the buildings, but to also integrate them within urban regeneration schemes which aspire to qualities of design and execution that reinforce the character of the area to create desirable, sustainable urban living.  This style of living, which has become rare in Perth and its environs, will offer an experience of city living where communities can live well and more sustainably.  As such it provides the vision for a new positive approach to the planning of the future revitalisation of Fremantle.


Standard design solutions will rarely suit

In promoting Fremantle’s positive differences from other places in the metropolitan area, the City is encouraging developers and their architects to respond to Fremantle’s ‘port city’ character.  This means that standard design solutions will rarely suit the character of Fremantle and this presents the building owner and his architect with a beneficial opportunity to provide an experience in an environment that is memorable for its quality and distinctiveness.

It should not be assumed that only one design outcome is possible.  Achieving the right balance between reinforcing the distinctive characteristics of the building and the need for it to be economically successful should always be based on specialist expertise.  The right outcome is rarely impossible provided all parties involved show reasonable flexibility and imagination, including some lateral thinking and a willingness to avoid conventional design solutions in favour of a more imaginative approach.


Does not mean stopping new ideas

At the same time, maintaining a sense of continuity does not mean stopping new ideas: it didn’t in the past and it shouldn’t in the future.  Just the opposite.  It means having the creative imagination to develop new forms of urban expression for the new types of trade, commerce and socializing that will add to the character of what has gone before.  With proper understanding of the historic context and sensitivity to the quality of place and community aspirations, new building and design can both complement and enhance the historic environment and ensure its survival by performing functions that could not otherwise be met.


Heritage places should be part of the life of the community

The City recognises that very few heritage places can be maintained at either public or private expense unless they are put to good use.  Furthermore, it believes that even if it were practicable, it would not be desirable.  Its preference is for heritage places to become part of the life of the community, while also making a greater contribution to the economic prosperity of Fremantle.

Economic prosperity encourages the inward investment that will secure the continued vitality of the precincts and the continued use and proper conservation of their heritage buildings.  In turn, this will lead to fewer threats to the historic environment and enable it to increase its contribution to the local economy and amenity.

In conclusion, the aim is to reinforce the sense of community, by creating places where people use, enjoy, conserve and benefit from their heritage buildings.


About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

2 Responses to Heritage Festival Guest Post #2 – The Future of Heritage in Fremantle

  1. Robert says:

    The number of Visitors who come into my store and comment on the uniqueness and huge selection of footwear and are amazed that Craftsman hand made Footwear is still made in WA and sold exclusively in Fremantle.(So good that even Joe Hocky has 3 pairs , Jim McGinty, John Dawkins are owners of Anastazi boots and shoes)
    Visitors are highly impressed that this has been a Shoe Store, continually since the late 1800’s, and that we have been entrusted with the operation since 1972. Further the fact that we are still displaying Footwear on Original shelving . They ask Questions and enjoy the experience. Even the very poor copy of an aerial photograph of Pearse Factory in Tyderman St Nth Fremantle is a surprise when they see the size Of the factory. Most Locals don’t even know of its existence.
    I fear that this history is about to be lost as we have just received a solicitors letter giving us 14 days to make good back rent. Money we just don’t have. Look forward to an other Small bar or an empty shop.

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